Opinion: Forget the past – the months ahead will define retailers’ futures

Woman with face mask street

There is a strange juxtaposition to be juggled in the minds of retail leaders as they prepare for a June 15 reopening.

On the one hand, there is a clear and obvious desire to get businesses, high streets and shopping centres up and running again. Retailers with store estates understandably want to be putting those assets to good use, in conditions that are safe both for staff and for shoppers.

But there is an overriding sense that the challenges that lie ahead during a return to something resembling normality will be even tougher than those that have already been navigated during the coronavirus crisis.

For many retailers, June 15 could mark the start of an even tighter financial squeeze. As store staff return to work, government aid through the furlough scheme will cease, leaving businesses with reinflated payroll costs.

Retailers that have been lucky enough to secure rent reductions or holidays from their landlords – or have simply refused to cough up the cash they owe – during the period of lockdown will suddenly have larger property bills landing on their desks.

As outgoings increase, the pressure will mount on retailers to make their physical assets work harder than ever before to bring in customers and drive sales in the new socially distanced normal.

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